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Those who choose to belly up to their favorite bar may find the practice a lot more costly in the future.

Lawmakers Friday gave approval to three measures designed to get tougher on those who drink alcohol and then drive. The most controversial of the measures is one that would lower the amount of alcohol that could be consumed before a person is considered legally drunk to the lowest level in the nation - perhaps anywhere in the world.Also on Friday, the Senate voted 28-0 to raise the damage limit that victims of drunken driving could recover from the bars, restaurants and clubs that served the alcohol to the drunken driver.

A House committee also voted Friday to make it easier for law enforcement officers to conduct sobriety checkpoints.

But it was the bill sponsored by Rep. Nora Stephens, R-Sunset, that generated the most discussion. The House Transportation and Public Safety Committee on Friday approved a bill that would lower from 0.08 percent to 0.04 percent the blood-alcohol level at which a person is considered drunk while driving.

"This is history," said George Van Komen, a Salt Lake physician who for six years has lobbied for stricter drunken-driving laws as chairman of the Alcohol Policy Coalition.

None of five bills to lower the illegal blood alcohol level submitted to lawmakers in other states has made it out of the committee process. The bill now goes to the Utah House of Representatives for further consideration.

People for and against the bill spent nearly two hours debating the issue earlier this week, but the committee postponed a decision until Friday. Stephens and Van Komen brought in an expert on drunken-driving legislation from Boston to lobby lawmakers during committee and lunch meetings.

The bill does not have the support of law enforcement officers who said they support drunken-driving prevention, but that their training isn't geared toward detection at this lower level. They also argue it would be difficult to prosecute drunken-driving cases if this bill becomes law.

At the 0.04 blood-alcohol level, a normal-size adult would likely be considered legally drunk after two drinks during a one-hour period.

Currently, no other state has a blood-alcohol limit below Utah's 0.08 percent.

Rep. Brian Allen, R-Salt Lake, helped to sway the committee vote saying officers will be able to determine probable cause for arrest just as they would with the current 0.08 requirements. "Eventually, I don't think it will be any more difficult to make probable cause," Allen said.

Advocates for tighter drunken-driving requirements have been trying to pass a similar law for five years.

"It's the first time a committee has recognized this is a credible, effective way to reduce drunk driving," Allen said.

SB112 takes a different approach to fighting drunken driving, making it easier for victims of drunken driving to recover damages. The current Dramshop law places a $100,000 cap on damages and the aggregate amount that can be awarded to all victims cannot exceed $300,000.

Sen. David Buhler, R-Salt Lake, had wanted to remove the caps altogether, saying "there is no cap on a victim's injuries." But removing the cap would make it extremely difficult for Utah businesses that serve alcohol to purchase insurance, industry representatives said.

On Friday, the Senate reached a compromise, agreeing to retain the caps but raising the limit to $500,000. If more than two people were injured, the aggregate amount that could be awarded to the victims could not exceed $1 million.

Buhler was not happy with the caps but agreed it was a necessary compromise to keep Utah businesses viable. But he challenged lawmakers to "decide which side we are on . . . the victims or the people who should know better." *****


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